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Over just a few days, you can live out the vacation fantasy of making a foreign bar or cafe feel a little like home
This post originally appeared in the September 12, 2022 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
On a recent, much needed vacation to Mexico City, my partner and I spent our first night drinking mezcal at La Nacional. It had an extensive mezcal list, a good selection of beers, hearty snacks, and what wound up being my favorite cocktail of the whole trip — a mezcalita made with xoconostle juice. The next two nights we tried other bars, all with their charms, but nothing quite hit the spot like that first place did. So we did something that felt deeply unnatural on a vacation where our main goal was to do new things. We went back. And we went back again.
Even the most relaxing vacations are full of choices. You decide where to go, what your budget is, what museums to see, what day trips seem like too much of a hassle, and obviously which restaurants you absolutely need to try. These are exciting choices to make, but choices that require energy all the same, and by the end of an active day of sightseeing and eating you may not have it in you to decide what to do with your night. Which is why, if you’re spending more than a few days in a new city, you should pick a bar at which to make yourself a regular.
What qualifies as a bar you’d want to make your regular spot varies. For me, I like a bar that isn’t too fussy, but skews younger and maybe queerer than a 100-year-old dive. A place where I can get a cocktail slightly nicer than a gin and tonic, but also a pleasantly unremarkable house white wine. It becomes a real know-it-when-you-see-it proposition, but walk around most cities and you’re sure to see a place that pulls you in. And if you don’t drink or prefer a daytime tea, a cafe works just as well.
Practically, bars and cafes are great places to pause. Over a coffee or a glass of wine, you can gather your thoughts about your trip so far, and plan out the next day in a place that isn’t your hotel room. At dinner, you’re focused on the food, but here the stakes are lower, the vibe is more relaxed. You can look at maps on your phone without being rude. You can linger after an all-day hike or three hours in a massive museum. You can figure out what your next moves will be, while still in the place you set out to enjoy.
There is also a fantasy that becoming a regular allows you to live out. We’ve all thought it while on vacation at some point — What if I lived here? You know that on some level life wouldn’t look like long lunches and walking tours and days free from obligation, but it’s nice to pretend for a little bit. And on vacation, feeling like a regular can actually happen relatively quickly. If you’re clearly not from around there and show up two nights in a row, chances are the bartenders and servers might remember you and your tastes. You can chat with people you recognize, even if you have to awkwardly stumble through a few languages to do so. But mostly, you can just settle in, a thing that vacations ironically don’t always allow for. Over the course of a few days, you can build that beautiful connection to a bar that feels like home, hundreds of miles from where your actual home is.
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